Listen to young people, be open to change, cardinal tells synod
Members of the Synod of Bishops are called to recognize the challenges young people face in living their faith, interpret those challenges in the light of faith and make “courageous choices” to renew the Catholic Church and its ministry to teens and young adults, said Brazilian Cardinal Sergio da Rocha.
The cardinal, relator general of the synod, introduced the synod’s work Oct. 3, urging the bishops to pray for “the gift of a healthy spiritual uneasiness,” recognizing that while the Church has some programs that help some young people, much more needs to be done.
The theme of the synod Oct. 3-28 is “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.”
“We cannot think our offer of accompaniment in discernment will be credible for the young people to whom it is directed if we cannot show ourselves capable of practicing discernment in the ordinary life of the Church, making it our communal style more than an operating method,” he said.
Discernment, the cardinal said, requires real listening, evaluating what is seen in the light of faith, pausing to bandage the wounds of the injured and being open to the Holy Spirit’s suggestions for how the Church and its members should change.
The synod, he said, is called to help the whole church evaluate the quality of “our educational and pastoral action, our ability to transmit the faith to younger generations and to accompany each young person in discerning the call the Lord is making to him or her.”
The art of listening is essential, the 58-year-old cardinal said, especially in a world that is quickly changing. The bishops may have stereotypes about young people that are based on things that no longer exist or they may be thinking of how things were when they were growing up.
“In this moment of great and sudden changes,” he said, “we cannot presume to know the world of young people without first having dealt with truly existing young people.”
Next, he said, using the bishops’ knowledge of the faith, the Bible, theology, anthropology, spirituality and education, they need to interpret what is happening in the world of young people, also recognizing that the situation will be different in different countries and cultures.
Finally, he said, the bishops will be asked to make choices and identify things that must change or be strengthened to increase the church’s “spiritual vitality” and its ability to respond to the hopes and challenges young people bring to the Church.
Cardinal Rocha, referring to input collected before the synod, insisted that a key to improving the way the Church helps young people with “vocational discernment” is to stop using the word “vocation” to refer only to a call to the priesthood or religious life.
Calling such references “a reductive and restrictive vision,” the Brazilian cardinal insisted the Church must help young people understand that every human being has a basic, fundamental, God-given vocation to life. Then, for Christians, there is the baptismal vocation, which is a call to holiness, to love and to service.
“In a world in which the ideology of the self-made man dominates, there is no place for recognizing the vocational nature of human existence,” he said. The first lesson in vocation the Church must share with young people is that they were loved by God in the first instance of their lives and that God has a plan for them; they are not “puppets in a game where everything is already decided or is meaningless.”